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From one boom to another...how the Celtic Tiger sparked a surge in babies

An historic jump in Ireland's birth rate has uncovered a Celtic Tiger baby boom that will shape the country's future.

Latest official figures show 73,996 babies were born in 2008 -- the largest number in any one year since 1980.

The previous time Ireland experienced so many newborns was in 1892, according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

The surge confirms a baby boom on the back of the economic good times but academics believe it is too early to compare it to the post-Second World War spike in births.

The rise will be seen as a positive boost to Ireland's young population in the years ahead, but it will also heap further stresses on the country's already strained child care, education and health service.

Dr Jane Gray, a sociology expert at NUI Maynooth, said the figures suggest women were putting off having children until they were older because of the career opportunities during the last decade. The CSO report shows the most popular age for Irish women giving birth during 2008 was between 30 and 34 years. There was a shift in the 1990s from women having children during their late 20s to their early 30.

A third of all births in Ireland were to unmarried parents, most of whom were women in their 20s in stable relationships.

Just over a fifth of newborns were to non-Irish mothers while Ireland continues to have the highest fertility rate of all 27 European Union member states.